RWU Presents a Year-Long Series, 'Hidden Truths: Stories of Race and Place'

Interdisciplinary series examines racial justice issues in Indigenous and Black communities, stemming from colonization, the slave trade, immigration and environmental politics

By Jill Rodrigues '05
Series title card: Hidden Truths: Stories of Race and Place at Roger Williams University

BRISTOL, R.I. – When often-untold stories are brought to light, they reveal parts of history that provide us all – those who know an alternative narrative and others who aren’t aware of the complete story – with a wider perspective and understanding of who we are, how we got here, and what we can do to move forward as a society.

A new yearlong series at Roger Williams University, “Hidden Truths: Stories of Race and Place,” will present important conversations on the marginalized stories of our local area, and its complicated history with Indigenous peoples, the slave trade, environmental justice and immigration, and how these issues surface as present day disparities and systemic racial inequities. Members of the campus community and general public are invited to hear from faculty members and alumni who will present lectures across wide-ranging, interdisciplinary fields of expertise.

“Universities play a vital educational role in expanding knowledge and awareness of minoritized histories,” says RWU Provost Margaret Everett. “This series showcases not only the expertise of our faculty and alumni, but their commitment to reckoning with complex and often painful truths about our past and present.”

The first event in the series – “Decolonizing Sowams: Resisting the Erasure of Indigenous Lives in the East Bay of Rhode Island,” presented by RWU Associate Professor of Anthropology Jeremy Campbell – will be held on Zoom on Wednesday, Sept. 16 at 7 p.m.

Campbell’s lecture will explore the history of the Pokanoket nation, the original inhabitants of the Bristol and greater East Bay area, and their ancestral land which they called Sowams. As part of a collaborative, student-driven research project, Campbell and his students are publishing oral histories of the local Indigenous peoples that have been passed on verbally through generations in order to preserve and reveal new perspectives of the stories that have shaped our local area, dating back 400 years to present day. Their research spans from the genocidal King Philip’s War, which paved the way for colonization, to watching the seat of their spiritual and political homeland carved into a Cold War-era Nike missile site, and how current day tribal members ensure their traditions survive and endure.

“Bristol is very proud of its colonial history – it’s painted red, white, and blue right down the middle of the road – and justifiably so. But there’s an earlier history that is also crucial to understand, and it’s written right here in the land and its people are still here,” says Campbell, a Fulbright Scholar with expertise on Indigenous peoples and their land, especially land conflicts and ecological change in the Brazilian Amazon. “We can have a richer and more sustainable idea of our nation if we understand there were many threads that bring it together – and that speaks to addressing racial justice for the local Indigenous people as well.”

The year-long series aims to engage the campus community in a deeper understanding and informed dialogue around racial justice and equity issues within local and global histories. The series is organized by the Education, Scholarship and Service committee, a group of faculty and staff working through RWU’s Equity Action Plan to develop inclusive educational initiatives around social and racial justice issues. It is sponsored by the Office of the President and the Provost’s Office.

The topics also will be explored through classes across the University as faculty incorporate these discussions into a range of disciplines. All lectures will take place virtually and will be available for later viewing on RWU’s YouTube channel, making the presentations modular and accessible to work into courses. All members of the campus community are encouraged to attend these virtual conversations.

Fall 2020

  • Decolonizing Sowams: Resisting the Erasure of Indigenous Lives in the East Bay of Rhode Island
    Wednesday, Sept. 16 at 7 p.m.
    A recording of the lecture is available here.
    Jeremy Campbell, Associate Professor of Anthropology, will explore the history and present of the Pokanoket Nation, the original inhabitants of Bristol, with a special focus on how the Pokanoket have recently sought to challenge their erasure from the history of the region. At once a story of colonization and survival, the Pokanoket have endured dispossession, enslavement, marginalization, and misclassification at the hands of the dominant society.

  • Alumni Panel Focused on the Intersection of Racial Disparities and Public Health Issues
    Monday, Oct. 26 at 7 p.m.
    A recording of the presentation is available here.

    Racial Disparities in U.S. Maternal Outcomes as a Result of the Structure and Function of Healthcare Facilities  
    Mary Dinnean ’18, National Strategy & Business Development Associate at Boston Children’s Hospital, will present a discussion on systematic inequalities in the maternal healthcare that Black and minority women receive compared to white counterparts during labor and birth. Such disparities include hospital resource divide, provider racial bias, cultural competency, and communication. All such factors contribute to disproportionately high rates of maternal mortality and severe morbidity among Black and minority mothers.

    Disparities in Access to Mental Health Resources for Minoritized Communities
    Willie Borkai ’14, a second-year graduate student in Rhode Island College’s master in clinical mental health counseling program, will discuss the social inequities, disparities and stigmas that prevent people of color from seeking mental health care and the systemic obstacles minority communities face in accessing adequate mental health services. Through his work and research, he aims to destigmatize mental health within minority communities and to improve racial and ethnic representation in the mental health care workforce.

  • Slavery and the Slave Trade in Rhode Island
    Tuesday, Nov. 17 at 7 p.m.
    A recording of the presentation is available here.
    Charlotte Carrington-Farmer, Associate Professor of History, will utilize primary sources to
    tell the story of slavery and the slave trade in Rhode Island, addressing both Indigenous and African slavery, and the legacy of slavery through present day. Many people are unaware that Rhode Island, specifically Bristol and Newport, dominated the slave trading business.Enslaved peoples lived and labored in Rhode Island from the birth of the colony until slavery was abolished in 1842.

Spring 2021

  • Works on Memory: Reflections & PracticesMemorial to the Abolition of Slavery in Nantes, France
    Thursday, Feb. 11 at 7 p.m.
    Virtual presentation can be viewed here.

    Julian Bonder, Professor of Architecture, will present a lecture about the role that architects play in public discourses about history and memory, ethics politics and the public domain through monuments and memorials. With a look at the Center for Holocaust Studies at Clark University; the National Holocaust Monument, Ottawa; the Martin Luther King Jr & Coretta Scott King Memorial, Boston; and the Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery in Nantes, France, this presentation will also include materials and images from the “Unearthing traces and legacies of Rhode Island Slavery and Slave Trade” design studios conducted at Roger Williams University.

  • Black Women, Thick Bodies, and Anti-Black Racism in America
    Wednesday, March 3 at 7 p.m.
    Virtual presentation can be viewed here.

    Kamille Gentles-Peart, Associate Professor of Communication and Media Studies, will explore how Black women’s bodies are used to justify the oppression of Black women in the African diaspora. It will address how, beginning with the forced displacement of Africans to the “new world,” American white places and spaces pathologize voluptuous Black female bodies, using these bodies to legitimize Black women’s enslavement and to support anti-Black woman practices in contemporary “post-racial” America.

  • Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Reporting Impacted Geographies of Environmental Justice in South America
    Tuesday, March 23 at 7 p.m.
    Virtual presentation can be viewed here.

    Paola Prado, Associate Professor of Journalism, will present a critique of news coverage of environmental justice issues, arguing for a more complicated assessment of systemic inequalities that impact how the news media reports environmental risk and climate change. From the Chilean Andes to the Amazonian rainforest, this conversation will examine the hidden truth about neo-extractive practices that power our 21st-century lifestyle, and their toll on Indigenous and other minoritized populations in the global south. 

  • The Renaissance: The Other History
    Tuesday, April 6 at 7 p.m.
    Virtual presentation can be viewed here.
    Cheryl D. Miller, adjunct professor of graphic design, will discuss why decolonizing the history of graphic design requires surveying hidden stories around its canonical eras. Much of the teaching about the Renaissance era celebrates Euro-Anglo-centric history of technological development; i.e., the printing press, movable type and typography design, wood cuts and engraving process. Many of those European developers were colonizers and their main business was the stealing and selling of Africans. A synoptic survey of the Renaissance and the Trans-Atlantic Slavery trade reveals surprising ephemeral corporate communications, advertisements and branding strategies using this new technology in promoting a thriving new business at the time: slavery.